On World Habitat Day Guterres calls for heightened efforts to improve housing

Addis Ababa, 05 October 2020 (ECA) - In 1985 the United Nations designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. The day provides an opportunity for all to reflect on the state of towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

This year World Habitat Day is being celebrated under the theme; Housing For All: A better Urban Future. The global observance of World Habitat Day is this year being hosted by the city of Surabaya, in Indonesia.

In his message on the day, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said: “The urgency of improving living conditions has been brought to the fore by COVID-19, which has devastated the lives of millions in cities. Access to clean water and sanitation, along with social distancing, are key responses to the pandemic. Yet in slums it has proved difficult to implement these measures. This means an increased risk of infection, not only within slums, but in whole cities."

He called for heightened efforts to promote partnerships, pro-poor policies, and regulations needed to improve housing in cities in this crucial Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

“As we strive to overcome the pandemic, address the fragilities and inequalities it has exposed, and combat climate change, now is the time to harness the transformative potential of urbanization for the benefit of people and planet,” the SG said.

Key Messages

  • Short term and emergency accommodation for people without secure housing through underutilized spaces and repurposing of buildings.
  • Moratoriums on evictions due to rental and mortgage arrears or forced evictions of informal settlements and slums along with suspension of utility costs and surcharges for the duration of the pandemic.
  • Access to buildings, land and open space for essential small businesses, food security, emergency health care and other vital functions needed while people stay at home.
    • While these steps are timely and important, they need to become sustainable long-term changes enshrined in policy and legislation. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of a people-centred approach as housing is as vital for the character, shape and socio-economic vibrancy of cities as it is to public health outcomes.
    • Housing is the building block of people’s health, dignity, safety, well-being and inclusion.
    • Housing is a shared responsibility.
    • Adequate housing for all will depend on strengthened and coordinated efforts including from national and local governments. Local authorities are key actors in ensuring that all citizens stay safe and protected.
    • National governments are critical for supporting local decision-makers by empowering them to take preventative action and make effective decisions.
    • Other partners include civil society organizations building partnerships with residents, private sector mobilizing resources for options including rentals, housing preservation and rehabilitation and the international community mobilizing support for housing.
    • People must be empowered and equipped to contribute to and shape the housing where they live. We need to facilitate the right framing and incentives for unlocking long-term political commitment, creativity, investment and local ownership for housing all in our future cities.


Remarks by Ms. Vera Songwe

Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826
E-mail: eca-info@un.org